Friday, June 19, 2009

The Past in Present Tense

This week the Justice Department correctly overturned two discriminatory state of Georgia "no match, no vote" voting procedures. Georgia is one of the states subject to federal pre-clearance, given its history of illegal voting intimidation methods that in part resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The procedures Georgia put in place were designed to flag new registrants whose basic personal information did not match government databases. Another comparable procedure checked the citizenship status of new registrants against the government's records. Given that local, state and federal governments are notorious in all kinds of cases for having poor record-keeping, the fact that the Bush administration upheld these practices for years is unimaginable. The Obama/Holder Justice Department's decision is particularly significant given that the same department with a Hispanic head under President Bush routinely backed states' voting rules - rules that more often than not made it harder for minorities to register and vote.

Moreover, the Justice Department's actions could not have been more timely given that the Supreme Court is in the process of deliberating a challenge to the Voting Rights Act from jurisdictions and advocates who claim the Act has exhausted its necessity and utility.

However, after investigations, the Georgia procedures were found to have many errors and resulted in thousands of eligible voters having to go through the arduous process of verifying their identity records simply to vote (and we wonder why turn out is often low?). Most of those flagged persons, according to the New York Times, were Black.

Finally, the Justice Department under a Democratic, Black-led administration used the law to defend the voting rights of American citizens. Citing the need for Georgia to pre-clear any voting changes with the Justice Department as determined by Section Five of the Act, the decision has stopped the process that was allowed by President Bush and his Justice Department for far too long.

Now, the next battle is to ensure that this Georgia example is shared on loud speakers in front of the Supreme Court, as they may strike down the very section of law that was used to invalidate Georgia's 21st century voting intimidation acts.

As much as we would all like to believe that the Act and Section Five were remnants of a past era, the very fact that we are still having to address situations like what just occurred in Georgia is evidence that what is in the past for some, is still very much the present for others.

Until the past remains the past for all and is exemplified by corresponding actions, the Voting Rights Act and any other law supporting the civil rights of American citizens must be upheld.

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